Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: John Key's Everest-like dream stranded at base camp

Older and more cynical as I now am, I was taken by John Key's similarly grand, and Everest-like, dream. Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Older and more cynical as I now am, I was taken by John Key's similarly grand, and Everest-like, dream. Illustration / Peter Bromhead

It was very decent of the Government to mark Auckland's birthday by finding the petty cash to fund the transfer of 16 brown kiwis from Coromandel to recently pest-freed Motutapu Island. But it is rather an anti-climax after last year's grand promise to create a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050.

Last July, then Prime Minister John Key donned his Pied Piper cap and set a goal which popped up in papers all round the world. It could have been his John Kennedy announcing the Peace Corps moment. An over-the-top project, but so well meaning you wanted it to succeed.

As an impressionable young teen at the time, I recall the newly inaugurated American president's decision to create an army of volunteers to donate their time and skills to Third World communities as inspirational. (Ironically, Kennedy employed the same "executive order" mechanism Donald Trump is now using to keep at bay the poor and huddled masses that Kennedy wanted to help.)

Older and more cynical as I now am, I was taken by John Key's similarly grand, and Everest-like, dream. It deserved to succeed. But half a year on, and no army enlisted, or battle plans revealed, it's become rather disheartening. Instead of free rat traps for all, we're back to transferring a few kiwis and tossing a few dollars into clearing some bush paths in the Waitakeres. If the battle plans have not been abandoned now General Key has left the room, could I suggest a new battle front be created to take on the huge populations of rats and other vermin that live in the towns and cities. As Chris Liddell, friend of President Trump, said at the time of the launch, the goal of complete eradication is achievable only if the whole country gets behind it. He was speaking as a director of his Next Foundation organisation, which invests in large-scale pest control. To me, how better to get behind such a campaign than to set a trap in your own back yard.

A few months back, when I was moaning about a rat in my ceiling, a reader said to shut up and get one of these new-fangled resetting traps that fire a gas-powered bolt into a procession of nosey rodents. Instead, I decided to be more methodical in the use of my old plastic tube model, where you thread a poison block onto a dangling wire and check regularly. Something came for a feed over Christmas, but since then business has been down. Not that I'm complaining. Living near a street of restaurants, I know what happens when you let your guard down.

It's not a new problem. Grazing through the Papers Past website, up popped fishing industry supremo Albert Sanford in February 1907 with his recipe for ridding Auckland of "rats from Australia". He proposed a fulltime rat-catcher be retained by both the Harbour Board and the City Council, "fully equipped with traps, ferrets, gun etc". They should be paid enough to ensure "a living wage". He said rats, as good scavengers, "have done very much good in preserving the health of man in Auckland" up until then but with the introduction of covered refuse bins, he feared they will be reduced to a starved weakened state, and vulnerable to plague, if a carrier rat arrives, thus putting Aucklanders at risk.

Whatever transpired, rats have prospered.

As Liddell points out, success depends on having the whole country behind the campaign. At present, we urban folk are left to debate the merits of 1080 poison drops, while the battle is conducted on offshore islands or remote wildernesses few of us get to see. We say oh dear, how sad, when we're told the pests kill 25 million native birds a year. But the killing and the fightback is out of sight and generally, out of mind.

I say get everyone involved, and bring the fight to our doorsteps by opening new battlefronts in every town and city in the land.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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